The Fine Arts of prison education

Slowly but surely, it feels like change is coming when it comes to prison education. Indeed, it can feel like an uphill battle many days, but that’s why it’s so important to enjoy stories like these. Ten years ago, prison reform wasn’t even on most legislators’ radars, let alone the public’s. Fast forward to today,

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Prison Legal News battles DOC censorship of important information on sexual violence in prisons

Prison Legal News has launched an important lawsuit against Arizona’s Department of Corrections over the withholding of their publication from prisoners. The editions in question discuss documented cases of rape and sexual violence perpetrated by prison staff against inmates—one of which took place in an Arizona prison and was heard in federal court. Many inmates

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Teaching in Prison

By Secret Teacher /  Image courtesy

No bell marks the start of our day. Instead, a slow drip-feed of men in grey tracksuits amble their way into classes. Sometimes 10 sit in front of me, aged 21 up to 60 or 70. They are the disaffected and the despicable. They are the proud, the defensive and the downright disagreeable; funnelled into education during their first days inside, where they complete assessments in literacy and numeracy. Their scores determine their placement into a classroom, and their subsequent opportunities for work.

I didn’t know you could teach in prison until I volunteered at a rehab centre and someone there had learned to read in jail. It was a revelation to me after I’d always sworn that I would never teach, prompted in part by my primary teacher mother: never me, never a teacher. But something clicked and I knew that this was where I would end up. This was my niche; my place to make a difference.

The most challenging part of working with offenders is the disparity between students in the classroom – the range of ages, their level of literacy and their attitude to learning. Often their only common ground is their criminality. Some learners arrive spoiling for a fight, desperate to avoid the torture of school all over again, determined to prove themselves. Behaviour is an issue, with many refusing to work. Challenging inappropriate language is a constant battle when, for some, the f-word is used in every sentence.

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What to do Until a Really Good Teacher Comes

Dr. Jake Davis

“That teacher sucks. I didn’t learn anything!”

Whoever says that takes no more personal responsibility for their progress than a baby bird waiting for his momma to drop a worm in his open mouth.  Image courtesy

Yes, some teachers suck. A few really suck. By definition, half of all teachers are below average. Don’t let any of that stop your quest for knowledge. It’s up to you, not the teacher, to get the most from every course. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to squeeze every bit of useful knowledge from every course you take, regardless of the teacher’s skill.

First, realize that most of the learning will not take place in the classroom. It will occur as you prepare for class and as you review…in other words, when you study the material. You need to establish a study routine, including a consistent time slot aside during the day, a set location without any distractions, and whatever supplies you will need close at hand. Keep your class materials and notes together in one safe and easy to find place. Let others know that when you’re studying, you don’t want to be interrupted.

Second, make sure you are taking a course that is right for you. You should have an interest, or better still, an enthusiasm for the subject matter. Also, is the course at hand the right level for you? Not too simple and not too advanced. If this is an advanced course, make sure you have already taken the introductory course. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and taking up space better utilized by someone else.

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The Education of My Mother and Myself

By Wensley Roberts

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word education as: “The action or process of educating or being educated, a field of study dealing with methods of teaching and learning.” My lack of education has lead me to this 8′ X 9′ cell that I am now forced to call home.

Scholastics were not embraced by me in my youth. The school of hard knocks was my institution for teaching and learning. Pupils in attendance gained the knowledge of every phase of robbery, drug distribution, and every other crime imaginable. 

As I sit in my prison cell, I sPhoto courtesy thebrightlines.wordpress.comometimes flash back to my earlier years and wonder what went wrong. My mother was a caring and willing woman who fed and clothed me to the best of her ability. She was a black single parent who could not read. However, she pushed and encouraged me to be a good student.

I remember having to read the newspaper and other documents to my mother. I was just eight years old and was already writing checks for the household bills, due to her illiteracy. This continued up until I was sixteen. That’s when she kicked me out of her house for dropping out of school and doing other things she didn’t agree with or even understand.

My mother was a Jamaican immigrant who came to the United States in 1982. She worked three jobs and saved for years to bring me to this country. I came to America at the age of six. I find it to be somewhat ironic that I was issued a scholastic visa to enter this country as a student.

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Prison Education Basics 104 (A Little History Explains a Lot — or Does It?)

By George Hook

A near universal belief is that education is an essential ingredient to minimizing recidivism.  Equally universal is the belief that federal and State prison education programs are too generally unavailable.  Some might state that Uncle Sam and the States are “criminally negligent” on this score.  Others might even delete “negligent” and assert that the “criminality” is specific, targeted and intentional.  Those making such assertions would not just be suffering prisoners, who might expect misunderstanding, at least, and even targeting.  Educators and administrators may be numbered among the jury as well.  Primarily, the educators and administrators are the ones more vocal, among them sociologists and criminologists, who do the statistical and other research, the most distressed and making the clarion call to reform.

Prison education is expensive.  Although the students and facilities are readily available, the teachers’ availability and access to them is quite problematic.  Usually, teachers have had to stand up before their students and lecture.  That means having teachers enter the prison facility.   Many, if not most, teachers from traditional backgrounds would be very wary about teaching in any prison environment or to persons regarded to be potentially, if not patently, dangerous, generally, if not so specifically, by the teachers individually.  Transporting groups of prisoners beyond the prison walls is substantially more bothersome, and, potentially more risky and dangerous.  Admitting teachers to prison and transporting prisoners to outside classrooms, both, have usually been substantially more expensive than the general public, as represented by their political voices in government, could tolerate.  So the more acceptable alternative has been the correspondence course curriculum.   

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